Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Nature of Saving Faith

The Roman Catholic cartoon above lampoons the protestant doctrine of "Sola Fide": justification by faith alone.  The image concedes that faith is the engine behind works but claims that protestants disconnect faith in God from works.  Unfortunately this kind of misrepresentation convinces many who assume that when one makes a distinction between two things they are also and invariably disconnecting those two things.  

They're wrong.

Consider the body: muscles and tendons are distinct.  You would be wrong to say that muscles are the connectors and tendons contract/elongate to make motion possible.  Clearly, each has its own function but neither is found alone- they're symbiotic.  Think of blood: you would be wrong if you thought that white blood cells carried oxygen and red blood cells fought against disease.  Again, blood has distinct parts (don't forget plasma!) and while we can discuss the elements that constitute blood, we're not separating them.  We simply recognize differing roles although they are united.

Considering the 2nd chapter of James, we understand that many have confused the writings from verse 14 to 26 as being in contradiction to the writings that have come to us from God through Paul (especially in chapter 4 of Romans).  But this is an oversight due to poor comprehension of the passage in James.  Let's look at some of the verses as rendered from the NIV:

"What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds?  Can such faith save him?  Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food.  If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?  In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.  But someone will say, "you have faith; I have deeds."  Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.  You believe that there is one God.  Good!  Even the demons believe that--and shudder."

It's clear that James is talking about a person who has not merely made a distinction, but also a disconnection between faith and works.  Not only that, but the kind of faith that's in view here is not the vibrant, dynamic brand that reveals the rich deposit of trust and confidence in God.  James is talking about mere mental assent which only qualifies a person to be in rank with a demon.  For a fuller discussion on the different types of faith, I recommend the article entitled, "Faith Defined" from Ligonier Ministries.  The "faith" that is simply mental assent says, "I believe" but stops there.

The nature of saving faith is revealed in works that come from and are in line with trusting the message that comes from God; specifically the gospel.  The Apostles as a group along with the earliest disciples went about preaching and teaching on the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ.  They didn't merely huddle in corners memorializing their Master.  The obeyed His command to go and make disciples as expressed in Matthew 28:18-20.  Their deeds were fruit, rooted in faith, not severed from faith.  This is the pattern in Christ: faith produces deeds.  Saving faith says, "I believe, and God empowers me with the grace to do". 

But James explains that this pattern isn't merely a New Testament thing, it's simply a God-thing.  It's always been the case that those who believe will "do" from their believing.  They always act on their faith.  James, like Paul, points to Abraham who believed God enough to offer Isaac as a sacrifice.  Genesis 15:6 makes it clear that Abraham believed God's promise to give him innumerable descendants.  And yet, he trusted God enough to offer up his one and only son.  Hmmm... sounds a little familiar...might be pointing to a message that we must believe too... and then live in a way that lines up with that belief.


  1. can the same thing be said about hope and faith?... they are distinct but symbiotic

  2. I think so. We often hear "hope" and "faith" used interchangeably they are distinct. Where faith speaks of trust, hope speaks of an expectation and in the Christian understanding of it, both are generally outside of oneself and specifically in God and/or the gospel. I'm not 100% sure of your question, but I can see connection where perhaps one's faith in Christ fuels their hope in His return. Interesting question.